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Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Comments

Marleigh

Leaving aside the issue of gentrification, about which my opinions are varied and complex, I can say with no shame that I love Justin Timberlake. But I love him as a pop star.

Sure, the guy is multi-talented but I can't imagine him in any role in Rent. I was fortunate enough to see the musical with 4/5 of the original cast, so I can agree that it was a less than earth-shattering show and nowhere near the best musical I've seen. I much preferred Avenue Q, and even Mama Mia is better suited to be made into a movie than Rent—especially with Columbus directing.

Aside from that, if he's so concerned with the message of Rent, did he completely miss the made-for-TV Angels in America? There's no way that Columbus' Rent can top Tony Kushner, and I have a sneaking suspicion that it would turn out far too Harry Potter-esque, anyway.

Coincidentally, I think that the Harry Potter franchise is, if not a sign of the apocalypse, a sure indication of the complete collapse of Western civilization. Didn't anyone read CS Lewis as a child?

FIlmbrain

First off, a bow to Marleigh regarding the Harry Potter comment. And to answer the question -- I guess not, and JK Rawling is laughing all the way to the bank as a result.

As for Rent -- yes, would probably make a decent film. I think Spike would have been a good choice (although his last musical was pretty weak). Still, he knows NYC well enough.

As for Timberlake -- I have no idea. I think I once heard a Back Sync Boy song and it made me want to die. Didn't he do some solo thing where he thought he was black? I really don't fancy the idea of a big-budget musical designed around a flavor-of-the-month. What sort of screen presence does he have? Probably none.

Now as for Chris Columbus -- Aaron was putting it mildly when he said he hasn't added anything to his films. The man has no vision whatsoever. Put a page in front of him, he'll do what he's told. THAT'S why they give him oodles of cash to make films -- there's zero risk. "Need a re-shoot? No problem!" "Don't like the ending? Neither do I!" Please - let him stay in the kiddie world of Culkins and Potters.

Great post Aaron. It's quite the man that's brave enough in 2004 to admit loving A Chorus Line and Sweeney Todd. (And I couldn't agree with you more about those shows and Rent.)

Aaron

Marleigh: I wasn't actually trying to knock Timberlake ... too much. I think he would be just fine as Roger, much as Adam Pascal was on stage. And even mentioning the word "gentrified" was simply my poor attempt at having a clever headline for the post -- not an attempt at judging the process.

Filmbrain: I never thought anyone would use the words "putting in mildly" in regards to Chris Columbus and this post. I guess I didn't spew as much vitriol as I thought.

Both of you: I think you are dismissing Harry Potter because of its being a phenomenon rather than the quality of the books. The books are great; they're a lot of fun; and they actually aren't total fluff. C.S. Lewis doesn't suffer just because Harry's popular, and the film version of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" may or may not prove that on its own merits. Tolkien obviously hasn't suffered either. And in some respects, while the writing itself isn't as sophisticated, I prefer elements of the Potter stories because they don't carry the blatant Christian allegory presented by those other two authors, particularly Lewis.

The movies and their popularity is another issue entirely. If they are adapted better (as I hope has been done this time with Cuaron at the helm ... this book is my favorite of the ones I've read too!) they could be phenomenal fantasy films. But just because something achieves mass popularity does not automatically make it bad or worthless, and Rowling deserves praise for writing intelligent (yes, I used the "i" word) works of fiction that can capture the attention of old and young alike. As I tried to touch on briefly, each of the books in their own ways deal with very common issues regarding adolescence and identity, and she does so in a way that neither babies nor condescends.

Marleigh

I have read as much of the Harry Potter series as I could before my body physically revolted. While on one hand I applaud the fact that people are actually reading books of some form again, just because it's popular doesn't mean it is exempt from criticism. I am not excluding these from the canon simply because they are popular. After all, I like Justin Timberlake and The Darkness. Harry Potter is OK, but that is the most lavish praise I can heap upon it. Mediocre it is, and mediocre it will remain until the end of time.

I can't agree that her take on the stories is necessarily intelligent. She is a competent writer and she can tell a coherent story; that's a talent that someone like Dave Eggers can't claim. No matter how you slice it, Ms Rowlings is still writing mass market fiction, which is tagged with the word "mass" for a reason. That doesn't mean that the people who read it are stupid or unable to appreciate anything more complex, just that Harry Potter isn't any better than a majority of the paperbacks in print.

To your point about CS Lewis, I can appreciate your criticism as it is a common and apt one. I happen to like both Lewis and Tolkein a great deal, and in defense of my position I offer you my suggestion for the series of books that should have been what Harry Potter has become: the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. Pullman has been writing for many years and manages to accomplish the very feat you have claimed for Ms Rowlings; that is, writing intelligent fantasy fiction that deals with issues of adolescence and identity which is suitable for adults and children, all without stooping to patronizing the audience.

The title of the series is taken from Milton, and quotes from Blake, Spenser, Milton and Dickinson, among others, pepper the text. Before you accuse me of elitism (which I fully admit to), I must say that I didn't pick up this book because of Milton or Blake, but because it is formidable enough work to have been banned by the Catholic church. That aside, I have not enjoyed any book (other than The Secret History) as much as this trilogy in a very long time, and I can admit that I cried like a baby at the end both because of the brillant writing and because I didn't want it to end. Even my sister, an avowed non-reader, loved these books. I can't heap enough praise upon them.

Aaron

I've heard great things about "His Dark Materials," and plan to read the books myself. While "Harry Potter" has become a super-phenomenon, from what I understand, "His Dark Materials" is actually right on the heels (maybe a step down) in popularity from the "Potter" series, at least in England. The book has already been adapted into a six-hour play directed by Nicolas Hytner for what I believe was a very successful theatrical run (don't know if it's still going) in London at the National Theater, and its film treatment is going into production shortly with a script by Tom Stoppard and Chris Weitz directing. I think Pullman's series of books is doing just fine.

And I wasn't trying to actually knock Lewis or Tolkien as I too love their stories, and as I wrote before, they are much more talented wordsmiths than Rowling could ever hope to be. I do, however, find the religious agenda, particularly in the Narnia series, to be a little overwhelming for a series of children's books that are written for a relatively young audience, as opposed to, say, most of Tolkien's works.

Obviously, we disagree on the potential value of anything marketed to or popular with the masses. I think there is plenty of "mass market" entertainment (visual and written) that is very good and maintains significant value. And at the same time, there are more than a few works of film and literature that are specifically not targeted to the masses that are utter and complete shit! If you're happy with your self-admitted elitist attitude to these things, great, but you may actually be missing out on something great sometimes.

As for "Potter," I never claimed it was exempt from criticism. I don't believe anything is. I just don't believe that something being "mass market fiction" is in itself a negative criticism. As far as criticism of the actual quality of the books, the first book is fun; the second book is, in fact, very mediocre. If you never got to the third book and beyond (because you were convulsing somewhere in a corner), that's where it becomes your loss.

Filmbrain

HP has nothing on "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" or "The Phantom Tollbooth".

Hadn't heard about the "His Dark Materials" series. Sounds interesting.

Back to the issue at hand -- was humming tunes from Rent while in the shower this morning and imagining how very bad a CC-helmed version of it would be. Probably even worse than Chicago which was the most unimaginative musical ever committed to film. They should have simply filmed a stage performance (which they pretty much did.)

I think Robert Altman should direct it.

Marleigh

Aaron: Re-reading my post it does seem my elitism extends to everything, but it doesn't. I am primarily a snob about books, but even there I have read my share of mass market fiction and enjoyed some of it very much. I just think that it is slightly ridiculous that such trends get so far out of control. Perhaps it wouldn't annoy me quite so much if some of the people who latch onto the Harry Potters and Da Vinci Codes of the world would use it as a springboard into other literature, like Pullman or Lewis or Faulkner or Lovecraft or Huysmans.

Though I didn't like the film, I was never so happy as to see that Cold Mountain was back on reading lists because it is a book truly worth all the hype. So long as something beyond a cultural frenzy comes from such things, I can't truly say they are bad. I can't even say they are bad on their own, as I enjoy plenty of things that could be termed mass market. I'm an elitist with a weakness for Tim Burton and Baz Luhrman, for Chrissakes. I don't think I could get any less elitist in that respect.

Also, in reference to the popularity of Pullman's trilogy, I was thinking specifically of it in comparison to the HP phenomenon in America. I'm aware that Pullman is quite popular in England, but I didn't know there was talk of a movie. I certainly can't complain about Tom Stoppard working on the script, either. But everyone should read the books first! They're so good!

Filmbrain: Roald Dahl was my favorite author as a child, and my cousins have all suffered through my affections at Christmastime with copies of The BFG and The Witches.

Hmmm. I don't know how I feel about Altman directing Rent. I'm a fan, but it just doesn't seem to be quite the right fit to me. Why would you choose him?

Filmbrain

I've been watching some early Altman lately, and I so love what he does with his camera. I thought that that would be a great approach to a musical, rather than, as I mentioned, something like Chicago.

On a somewhat related note, I came across this story today, and I don't have the heart to write about it on my site -- Aaron, maybe you can run with it (if you like):

Live action/CGI version of Charlotte's Web to be directed by Gary "13 Going on 30" Winick. Sigh. Must everything joyous from my youth be violated so?

The story

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